Female Pioneers in STEM

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Funded by Science Foundation Ireland, and supported by the Professional Development for Teachers (PDST), University College Dublin worked with a range of primary and post-primary DEIS (delivering equality of opportunity in schools) schools and their associated feeder and follow-on schools to explore girls’ attitudes towards STEM and possibilities for increasing their engagement with the field. Both the systematic absence of women from the STEM narrative and the absence of prominent female role models in STEM were key motivations for this research. Presenting STEM as a creative process which fosters inquiry and personal connection changes not only the narrative of STEM but the propensity for girls to relate to STEM. Using a philosophy for children (P4G) approach to inquiry, the research team worked with pupils at the upper end of primary and lower end of post-primary schools, adopting a cross-curricular approach, focusing on a range of female STEM pioneers, both historical and contemporary. Below is a sample of the resource bank that was provided to teachers to provide stimulus and guidance for students to conduct their own inquiries.

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Women Profiled in the Digital Portfolio

Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Astrophysicist from Northern Ireland who, as a postgraduate student, co-discovered in 1967 the first radio pulsars, considered ‘one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th century.’

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Rosalind Franklin

English chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose work was central to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA, RNA, viruses, coal, and graphite.

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Mae Jemison

American engineer, physician, and former NASA astronaut. The first black woman to travel in space when she served as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

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A number of schools also focused on past pupils who have gone on to develop careers in STEM. Pupils from the Sacred Heart School, Tullamore, examined ‘Women in STEM throughout the ages; past, present and potential future ‘STEMinists’, which included a focus on past pupils now working in the STEM area. Other schools conducted their own surveys examining the under-representation of women in STEM. In their research, pupils from St. Colman’s National School, Mucklagh, Co. Offaly proposed a series of recommendations on how to close the gender STEM gap.